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The White Man's Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon

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Narrated by the voice of a once-in-a-generation Twitter account @GuyInYourMFA: a handbook for the wannabe literary elite and those who laugh at them—all illustrated by a New Yorker cartoonist. Who better than that unjustifiably overconfident guy in your MFA to mansplain the most important (aka white male) writers of western literature? You can’t miss him: riding the L, Narrated by the voice of a once-in-a-generation Twitter account @GuyInYourMFA: a handbook for the wannabe literary elite and those who laugh at them—all illustrated by a New Yorker cartoonist. Who better than that unjustifiably overconfident guy in your MFA to mansplain the most important (aka white male) writers of western literature? You can’t miss him: riding the L, writing furiously in his Moleskine notebook, or defying the wind by hand-rolling a cigarette outside a Williamsburg coffeeshop. He’s read Infinite Jest 9 1/2 times—have you? From Shakespeare’s greatest mystery (how could a working-class man without access to an MFA program be so prolific?) to the true meaning of Kafkaesque (you know you’ve made it when you have an adjective named for you) to an appropriately minimalist dissertation on Raymond Carver that segues effortlessly into a devastating critique of a New Yorker rejection letter (”serious believability issues”), this guide is at once profound and practical. Use a Venn diagram to test your knowledge of which Jonathan—Franzen, Lethem, or Safran Foer—hates Twitter and lives in Brooklyn. (Trick question: all 3!) Practice slyly responding to an invitation to discuss Bartleby the Scrivener with “I would prefer not to.” Sneer at chick-lit and drink Mojitos like Hemingway (not like middle-aged divorcées!). And as did Nabokov (originator of the emoticon), find the Pale Fire within. So instead of politely nodding next time you encounter said person at a housewarming party in Brooklyn, you can hand them this book and tell them to roll up their sleeves and cigarettes, and get to writing the next great American novel.


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Narrated by the voice of a once-in-a-generation Twitter account @GuyInYourMFA: a handbook for the wannabe literary elite and those who laugh at them—all illustrated by a New Yorker cartoonist. Who better than that unjustifiably overconfident guy in your MFA to mansplain the most important (aka white male) writers of western literature? You can’t miss him: riding the L, Narrated by the voice of a once-in-a-generation Twitter account @GuyInYourMFA: a handbook for the wannabe literary elite and those who laugh at them—all illustrated by a New Yorker cartoonist. Who better than that unjustifiably overconfident guy in your MFA to mansplain the most important (aka white male) writers of western literature? You can’t miss him: riding the L, writing furiously in his Moleskine notebook, or defying the wind by hand-rolling a cigarette outside a Williamsburg coffeeshop. He’s read Infinite Jest 9 1/2 times—have you? From Shakespeare’s greatest mystery (how could a working-class man without access to an MFA program be so prolific?) to the true meaning of Kafkaesque (you know you’ve made it when you have an adjective named for you) to an appropriately minimalist dissertation on Raymond Carver that segues effortlessly into a devastating critique of a New Yorker rejection letter (”serious believability issues”), this guide is at once profound and practical. Use a Venn diagram to test your knowledge of which Jonathan—Franzen, Lethem, or Safran Foer—hates Twitter and lives in Brooklyn. (Trick question: all 3!) Practice slyly responding to an invitation to discuss Bartleby the Scrivener with “I would prefer not to.” Sneer at chick-lit and drink Mojitos like Hemingway (not like middle-aged divorcées!). And as did Nabokov (originator of the emoticon), find the Pale Fire within. So instead of politely nodding next time you encounter said person at a housewarming party in Brooklyn, you can hand them this book and tell them to roll up their sleeves and cigarettes, and get to writing the next great American novel.

30 review for The White Man's Guide to White Male Writers of the Western Canon

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I would explain what this book was about . . . but you wouldn't understand. I would describe how it made me feel, but ugh, that's just like, not the point. I will say that it has really inspired me, though. I mean, maybe I'll get a vintage typewriter so that I can really WRITE you know? The craft just isn't the same when you're trying to make art on a computer.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Mastrogiacomo

    Dana Schwartz’s newest satire is painfully real for any woman who has found herself on the outskirts of literary elitism. For context: Schwartz runs a parody Twitter account called @GuyInYourMFA, where she tweets as a white man with a passion for literature and a not-so-subtle hatred of women. She allows this character to voice his sexist and often classist opinions about books. He writes short biographical descriptions of his questionable role models – only the greats, of course – and the greats Dana Schwartz’s newest satire is painfully real for any woman who has found herself on the outskirts of literary elitism. For context: Schwartz runs a parody Twitter account called @GuyInYourMFA, where she tweets as a white man with a passion for literature and a not-so-subtle hatred of women. She allows this character to voice his sexist and often classist opinions about books. He writes short biographical descriptions of his questionable role models – only the greats, of course – and the greats just happen to be white men, like him. I have never considered myself “well-read.” I’m an English Lit major, but I’ve often felt overwhelmed by the pressure to consume work by the authors that Schwartz’s character idolizes. When I picked up this book, I was afraid that I wouldn’t understand the references being made. But as it turns out, that’s exactly the point. Schwartz reminds her readers that literary elitism is a sham that grounds itself in casual but persistent sexism. There’s a reason that it’s so difficult to adhere to the Western Canon: it’s designed to make female readers feel inferior. Schwartz isn’t shy about her criticism. She’s sharp and charming in her depiction of a self-righteous literary snob. I was laughing consistently, but I was also on edge the entire time because I felt like I had met this man before. He is the reason that women are prone to impostor syndrome, and he is inescapable. Schwartz captures his sliminess with such accuracy that I found myself shifting uncomfortably in my chair. She’s funny, yes, but she also presents a call to action in between absurd anecdotes about the emotional hang-ups of these men. This book is long overdue, and it sets a precedent for how we should think about literature moving forward. It explores academic environments from the perspective of a man who is so self-absorbed that he can’t see how much space he takes up. Men can and should read this book. Schwartz proves that humor can be just as effective as academic jargon in analyzing and reevaluating what we hold to be “great.” It isn’t enough to read male-driven reflections on cigarettes and extramarital affairs anymore – Schwartz will not stand for it, and neither should you.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey Abney

    This book was a great piece of satire, and the negative reviews demonstrate the timeliness of its release. The thing is- some of the books and authors mentioned have produced very enjoyable reads. However, when you seek out information about these authors, whether it's in your English Lit class or else just on Wikipedia, there is often little to no mention of what shitheads most of the authors were to the women around them. Do we separate the author from their work? For proper literary analysis, This book was a great piece of satire, and the negative reviews demonstrate the timeliness of its release. The thing is- some of the books and authors mentioned have produced very enjoyable reads. However, when you seek out information about these authors, whether it's in your English Lit class or else just on Wikipedia, there is often little to no mention of what shitheads most of the authors were to the women around them. Do we separate the author from their work? For proper literary analysis, I honestly think it's impossible to permit the facade of separation. Does this stop me from enjoying some of the books mentioned? Of course not. But now I can reflect on the escapades of Leopold Bloom while bearing in mind far more of James Joyce's bibliography which would be a direct influence on his literary choices.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Pignataro

    The only way Dana Schwartz could have made this book better is by inventing a time machine, then going back 20 years and publishing it then, thereby preventing untold instances of me making an ass out of myself in public. Of course this book is funny, but it’s also wonderfully, painfully, brutally true. Honestly, she’s absolutely correct that the Western canon is, and always was, a mess of hubris and misogyny. This book is savage and beautiful and I hope someday I’ll grow up and write as well as The only way Dana Schwartz could have made this book better is by inventing a time machine, then going back 20 years and publishing it then, thereby preventing untold instances of me making an ass out of myself in public. Of course this book is funny, but it’s also wonderfully, painfully, brutally true. Honestly, she’s absolutely correct that the Western canon is, and always was, a mess of hubris and misogyny. This book is savage and beautiful and I hope someday I’ll grow up and write as well as this.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Boldon

    Received a copy in a giveaway. This is a tough, small niche to inhabit, making fun of pompous academic white guys. This book does a decent job, but satire is tough, and this didn't have quite enough bite for me.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    I am delighted to know this guy has made his way around. I've known him most of my life, from friends of my aunt's to new grads who worked at the cable studio my dad worked at when I was a kid. Then I got a BA in English so knew plenty of them there and now I'm in libraryland and there are plenty more here. I know this guy so well. However, as much as I grinned throughout the book, by the end, I felt it had become as overbearing as the guy it mocks. I'd recommend reading this in short bursts if I am delighted to know this guy has made his way around. I've known him most of my life, from friends of my aunt's to new grads who worked at the cable studio my dad worked at when I was a kid. Then I got a BA in English so knew plenty of them there and now I'm in libraryland and there are plenty more here. I know this guy so well. However, as much as I grinned throughout the book, by the end, I felt it had become as overbearing as the guy it mocks. I'd recommend reading this in short bursts if you're the type to quickly tire of a schtick.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris Browning

    (Disclosures: When I was in the seventh grade, I once carried a hardcover library copy of Infinite Jest around with me for a day or two - I never actually got past the first twenty pages, but a guy in a Vampire Weekend t-shirt asked me how it was, and that made me deeply reconsider reading it; in middle school, you should only be listening to MCR and Kelly Clarkson. After graduating high school, a friend and I did end up doing an Infinite Summer thing and we regretted it - ultimately, the Gately (Disclosures: When I was in the seventh grade, I once carried a hardcover library copy of Infinite Jest around with me for a day or two - I never actually got past the first twenty pages, but a guy in a Vampire Weekend t-shirt asked me how it was, and that made me deeply reconsider reading it; in middle school, you should only be listening to MCR and Kelly Clarkson. After graduating high school, a friend and I did end up doing an Infinite Summer thing and we regretted it - ultimately, the Gately parts are decent, but the rest is just, well, you know the reputation. Thankfully, I've never read any of the Jonathans, although I have given 5-star reviews to two Thomas Wolfe (not Tom) books here, which is where you can start if you want to dunk on me.) When I was a senior in high school, my friends and I, who were all in a magnet writing program at the time, discovered Dana Schwartz's @GuyInYourMFA and we all thought it was funny - none of us were ever that pretentious, but we approached it at times, and so we were able to look at ourselves through the dark mirror of the Columbia New Yorker-hopeful. It might not come as a surprise that only one of us writes with any regularity or purpose anymore. Fast forward to now, and we have this book, the culmination of the joke, and it's not entirely clear what the purpose is here. If the purpose is, as Schwartz has mentioned on Twitter, to point the way toward a canon less focused on White Men, then that's all well and good (and, if we still view high school English classes as the battleground on which the canon is waged, then I'm all for replacing all the Faulkners and Fitzgeralds and Shakespeares with Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros and Carson McCullers and Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood and the Brontes - not only are these authors just as solid, if not more ripe with the themes and symbols that HS teachers love to tear apart (I mean you have Gatsby in one court, which is all obvious stuff, and then Beloved in another, where the symbolism is far more ingrained into the text and the writing itself and not just the plot events), they're also more engaging. I had to read All The King's Men in high school, and you can't tell me that students wouldn't enjoy and get more out of a book like Kindred), but this book doesn't really do that. Instead, you get the MFA guy character teaching us (mansplaining, more like, which is the point) about some thirty odd important White Male writers, while replaying some of the highlights of the Twitter account. And I wouldn't lie, I learned some new things (none of which made me want to read any of these writers any more than I already have) and Schwartz gets some good dunks in here and there. Where the book really succeeds is in the constant litany of abuses that these men practiced on their wives and partners, and the question by implication of why we should laud them when they were mostly shitty people (and, as Patricia Lockwood made abundantly clear in her recent re-evaluation of Updike, pretty shitty writers too). And yet, the Guy in Your MFA does exist, an old friend of my current roommate looks exactly like the cover drawing and goes through girlfriends every three weeks, attributing it to his rediscovered Catholicism, and quoting the Pynchon wiki page throughout the one class I had with him; these Guys could read this book and take it all seriously. That's not funny, really, it's just sad, annoying, and a bit disturbing. Ultimately, this is a fine book, but I can't help but think the hours spent with it would be better spent reading something by someone who stands in sharp contrast to these writers. Probably that's the thesis here, but you could make that point in a few tweets, and save yourself the trouble of rolling your eyes at the pointless illustrations spread throughout.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    Satire. Short chapters making light jokes about esteemed writers. Neo-nazis are so bothered by this little book of jokes that I bet they haven’t read. Sigh.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cody

    This book is racist and offensive and overpriced toilet paper.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Eileen

    Painful to read in the funniest way possible. The voice of the Guy in Your MFA is just so solid. Painful to read in the funniest way possible. The voice of the Guy in Your MFA is just 😚👌 so solid.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    A run down on some of the big name white male writers since Shakespeare, with an American focus in the latter part. I think the satire is less about hunting for the jokes in individual lines, more about how the same issues with the authors and their works keep popping up. From many short biographies the author synthesizes one problematic character. I think. I worry I am missing the point.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Book 1 down for July 2019 24in48 Readathon! Much parody, very satire. (Y’all, if you don’t understand what the @guyinmyMFA twitter account is about you wont understand this book.)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    Amusing. I genuinely laughed out loud at some parts.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

    Too little about the white male writers or their books, too little funny.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Greg K.

    Aaaactuallyyyy, this is a delightful, humorous survey of many of the most celebrated white, male authors in the voice of Dana Schwartz's @guyinyourmfa Twitter account. If you like cringe humor and literature, you will really enjoy this fun send-up.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Not as funny as I’d hoped. The authors note at the end was funnier than anything actually in the book, which was disappointing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    Terrific. Hilarious!

  18. 4 out of 5

    tortoise dreams

    Mild and gently humorous take on the title subject, guaranteed to raise a few chuckles but ruffle few feathers. Most of the smiles will come at the expense of the humorless, such as all those earnest men who've told me I must read Cormac McCarthy (I will! I will!). The target audience for this satire seems to be those comfortably smug in their social and cultural awareness who can comfortably chortle at these hapless authors and those who adore them. I guess I too enjoy poking fun at the image Mild and gently humorous take on the title subject, guaranteed to raise a few chuckles but ruffle few feathers. Most of the smiles will come at the expense of the humorless, such as all those earnest men who've told me I must read Cormac McCarthy (I will! I will!). The target audience for this satire seems to be those comfortably smug in their social and cultural awareness who can comfortably chortle at these hapless authors and those who adore them. I guess I too enjoy poking fun at the image of the ironic hipster intellectual, but at least I don't feel good about it. Most of the information presented is common knowledge, but there was some interesting trivia ("Cormac" is not McCarthy's given name). Short book (well padded with illustrations and cocktail recipes), which can be read in a sitting or even while standing in the book shop. Probably a good gift for the right person in your life. Dana Schwarz seems mostly upset by how many wives some of these writers have had, which is a double edged sword -- who kept marrying these jerks? I guess history is no guarantee of future performance. The book could have been much more pointed and raised some genuine issues about the repetitive attitudes and cultural views presented in some of the novels, which were so omnipresently taught in academia. But then it wouldn't be funny.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    A catalogue of white supremacy, misogyny, pretentiousness and boredom in literature. A satire outing the worst of the worst in Western writers and readers. It does get a bit lazy in the repetitiveness and clichés, but that is what white men with MFAs are like (and, as a person of a "funny tinge", I can confirm a lot of white women are like this too). There are patterns on subjects and behaviours from those who are chosen to be literary canon gods by people with a lot of power who project A catalogue of white supremacy, misogyny, pretentiousness and boredom in literature. A satire outing the worst of the worst in Western writers and readers. It does get a bit lazy in the repetitiveness and clichés, but that is what white men with MFAs are like (and, as a person of a "funny tinge", I can confirm a lot of white women are like this too). There are patterns on subjects and behaviours from those who are chosen to be literary canon gods by people with a lot of power who project themselves onto the work and the artist's lives. Behind most "starving artists", there are trust funds, a nobility title and/or a hard working woman. These patterns repeat themselves through the decades, no matter how "woke" or "cancel culture/politically correct" the establishment apparently gets. Mediocrity, abuse and bigotry always win.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Fantastic. Anybody who's ever taken a creative writing class (or been cornered by a particular sort of MFA student at a party) will appreciate this. From glowing descriptions of some of the greats of western literature (and reassurances that they totally didn't mistreat their wives or anything) to casual asides about the narrator's own tastes and aspirations (has he mentioned the short story he's working on?), this is lampooning of the finest sort. And don't worry, it's quick and breezy to get Fantastic. Anybody who's ever taken a creative writing class (or been cornered by a particular sort of MFA student at a party) will appreciate this. From glowing descriptions of some of the greats of western literature (and reassurances that they totally didn't mistreat their wives or anything) to casual asides about the narrator's own tastes and aspirations (has he mentioned the short story he's working on?), this is lampooning of the finest sort. And don't worry, it's quick and breezy to get through; even my feeble woman's mind made it through in just a couple of days!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laura Ward

    This book is delightfully self-aware, ironic, and full of tongue-in-cheek pretension: exactly what I would have expected from the excellent Guy in Your MFA. It definitely calls me out on some of my literary sensibilities, but it’s still nothing but fun. I was lucky enough to win an advance reader’s copy, but I’d have bought the book anyway because I’m such a great fan of Dana Schwartz’s writing. You can almost be jealous of how intelligent and hilarious she is, but at the same time it’s hard not This book is delightfully self-aware, ironic, and full of tongue-in-cheek pretension: exactly what I would have expected from the excellent Guy in Your MFA. It definitely calls me out on some of my literary sensibilities, but it’s still nothing but fun. I was lucky enough to win an advance reader’s copy, but I’d have bought the book anyway because I’m such a great fan of Dana Schwartz’s writing. You can almost be jealous of how intelligent and hilarious she is, but at the same time it’s hard not to be charmed.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Susan Hamilton

    I liked The White Man's Guide... If we could do half stars I'd probably give this a 3.5 rather than a 3. I think I was at a disadvantage starting this book without being familiar with @GuyInMyMFA (I think that's the Twitter?). I think I might have found it funnier with that background and with knowing the author is actually a woman. At times funny, at times painful, I think those familiar with Dana (or who have endured people like the one she portrays) will find it more cutting and funny than I I liked The White Man's Guide... If we could do half stars I'd probably give this a 3.5 rather than a 3. I think I was at a disadvantage starting this book without being familiar with @GuyInMyMFA (I think that's the Twitter?). I think I might have found it funnier with that background and with knowing the author is actually a woman. At times funny, at times painful, I think those familiar with Dana (or who have endured people like the one she portrays) will find it more cutting and funny than I did. I will say, I am curious now about Dana's Twitter so will be checking that out.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marisha Murphy

    Overall, I thought it was a good book full of facts, humor, and satire (my favorite combo). Sometimes it did tip toe the line of being offensive but the title prepared me for that. Plus, I think that the author's tone is very sarcastic throughout the whole book so it seemed that those moments were purposeful jokes in a way. It had cool sections that gave the reader an inside look into the crazy lives of authors we hear about all the time but rarely get to know on a personal level. Good quick Overall, I thought it was a good book full of facts, humor, and satire (my favorite combo). Sometimes it did tip toe the line of being offensive but the title prepared me for that. Plus, I think that the author's tone is very sarcastic throughout the whole book so it seemed that those moments were purposeful jokes in a way. It had cool sections that gave the reader an inside look into the crazy lives of authors we hear about all the time but rarely get to know on a personal level. Good quick read!

  24. 4 out of 5

    B. Johnston

    A light, charming satire of pretentious literary white guys- a demographic that absolutely needs to be satirized; I say this a lifelong pretentious literary white guy- but also a pretty good primer for the basics of great literature. The illustrations are a great addition to the text. The "This is Water!" gag alone makes the whole thing worth it, and if it didn't, the joke about semicolons in the Cormac McCarthy chapter would have.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maira

    Funny, provocative and current. I'm on twitter so I'm familiar with the nightmarish 'reply guy' that the book so skilfully depicts. Since I'm from Brazil I was not familiar with some of the western canon authors trivia, but I think a ton of celebrated Brazilian authors could easily be included in this book, but to be honest I don't think the MFA guy considers Brazil a western world country.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    A great way to tear down the canon of White Males is to just look at them a little more closely than usual which this book does. With its tongue firmly in cheek it viciously but accurately skewers the men who monopolize the shelves of literate. A great quick light read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Hilarious and shocking if you aren't already familiar with the lives of all of the mentioned authors. It certainly doesn't make any of them look good. This is a very short, quick read worthy of your time. Not just for men, it is actually written by a female.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Annarella

    I'm in two minds about this book: on one side it was quite fun to read, on the other the author seems to try too hard to make anything funny. Many thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for this ARC, all opinions are mine.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    Love this. Saved me from ever having to read Mailer, Foster-Wallace, and a couple others too. Every lib arts student knew at least 4 guys who matched the profile. If you didn’t, then you were one of the four guys, yes everyone likely hates you, and for good reason too ya arrogant prick.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Riegs

    Absolutely delightful.

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